Kotsay: Free agency 'not pleasurable'
Veteran outfielder had few options before re-signing with Red Sox
Mark Kotsay has played for five teams during his 11-year career in the big leagues, and in re-signing with the Red Sox earlier this month, he kept alive a streak about which he speaks with a fair amount of pride.
"I've never left a team on my own," Kotsay told MLB.com by phone Wednesday.
Kotsay has been traded four times, but he was eligible for free agency for the first time this winter. After testing the market for a couple of months, however, Kotsay became convinced that it wasn't the best time to be unattached.
So rather than run the risk of being one of the many quality veteran players still looking for work as teams ramp up for Spring Training, Kotsay accepted the reality of his situation and accepted his only concrete offer.
The Red Sox, who acquired Kotsay from the Braves late last summer, couldn't make him any guarantees about playing time. But they at least guaranteed him a job for 2009, with a guaranteed salary of $1.5 million.
"There were never any [other offers] made. Not legitimate offers, anyway," Kotsay said. "From the standpoint of being a free agent the first time, it was not a pleasurable experience by any means."
That's not to say Kotsay, 33, was expecting a feeding frenzy for his services.
He's an excellent all-around player, a .281 career hitter known as a consummate professional with a strong clubhouse presence. He plays above-average defense in center field, can man either outfield corner with similar aplomb and handles himself well at first base.
But he knows he's not a superstar, and he wasn't expecting to be treated as such.
He did, however, expect to have options.
"I didn't have a preconceived notion of my market value," he said, "but I would have envisioned possibly having more things to choose from."
Kotsay batted .288 in 88 games for the Braves last season, banging out 17 doubles, three triples and six home runs among his 92 hits before being dealt. Acquired to play a sort of super-utility role during Boston's playoff run and pressed into duty at first base when Mike Lowell's injured hip shelved him late in the year, he batted .250 in 10 postseason games, including a .300 clip in an American League Division Series victory over the Angels.
"Going into the offseason, as well as I finished the year, I felt I'd have the opportunity to pursue an everyday job," Kotsay said. "But as the time passed, that opportunity never really came."
Kotsay said his agent heard from a few teams after the window of exclusivity for teams to negotiate with their own free agents closed.
"Teams were legitimately talking, expressing desire, saying they'd love to acquire me and put me in center field to play every day and utilize my ability to play first base," he explained. "But after the first round of meetings in November, the atmosphere kind of changed. All of a sudden the talks just weren't as aggressive, or moving forward.
"No one was willing to make an offer."
What, exactly, changed? Kotsay isn't quite sure, but he's certain it's related to the national economy.
"The whole country is in an economic downturn, and there's no denying that it affects everyone, from the corporate level on down," he said. "I don't think anybody's going to be excepted from that. In any business, so much of it is based on revenue created, and even though we're coming off a year in baseball with the highest revenue [in history], there's no promise that it's going to be like that next year, so teams have to look at that.
"It's just a bad year and bad market."
Thus, it's a bad time to be an older player without a gig.
"Teams have come to realize they can go younger, go youthful, and save money," Kotsay said. "More and more clubs are going to that scenario. But I had no idea the reality of it all."
Now that he does, Kotsay, a Southern California native who won the Golden Spikes Award -- baseball's equivalent of football's Heisman -- and a College World Series title while at Cal-State Fullerton, is counting his blessings.
He's thrilled to be back with the Red Sox, who not only gave him an incentives package worth up to $1 million if he makes 500 plate appearances, but also give him a chance to plug a big hole in his resume.
"If I had waited, I might have had the opportunity to find a team on the West Coast and settle into a similar role, but I fell in love with Boston." Kotsay said. "I fell in love with the city, the fans, the organization, top to bottom. And we've got a great team with a great guy in charge [in manager Terry Francona]. It's a place I could see calling home for years to come.
"At this point in my career, I want to win a championship, and there's no better place to do it than in Boston."
Kotsay also is glad to have several big-earning years under his belt. He's made more than $44 million since his 1997 debut with the Marlins, who made him the ninth overall pick in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft.
"I definitely think it's easier for me to stomach," he said. "I've had 11 great years, and the game has definitely taken care of myself and my family. ... If I was 26, if would be a lot more difficult to swallow."
At the same time, Kotsay doesn't quite feel sorry for anyone still unsigned.
"There's a lot of guys still out there looking, and obviously some of them are very good players who you'd think would be signed at this point," he said. "But I wouldn't say I have sympathy because I don't know if they had opportunities they've passed on. If they have, they might look back and have regrets.
"But personally, it's hard to have a sympathy aspect to it if you were where I was earlier this offseason."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.